Ice Cream and Apologetics

ice creamI like ice cream. Rocky Road happens to be one of my favorite flavors, but really, anything with walnuts, almonds or peanuts will do. On the other hand, I realize that someone else may really love sorbets or fruit-flavored ice creams or, strange as it may sound to me, not like English walnuts on everything. There are even people who don’t like ice cream. And that’s perfectly fine in the ice cream shop where everything is a subjective matter of taste. There is no right or wrong. The person who has a peanut allergy is not churned into an ice cream heretic because they can’t have peanuts on their peanut buster parfait. And the double dark chocolate lover is not intolerant when it comes to excluding fruit from their sweet cones of delight.

I like ice cream. I also enjoy Christian apologetics. And I think both are gifts of God. But what does my love of ice cream and apologetics have in common? Absolutely nothing at all. And that’s the point. World religions are not like the myriads of flavors of ice cream out there. And Christianity is not a “have it your way” religion. The idea that religious truth is relative is simply another form of American idolatry: “your truth” is good for you and I have “my truth” and no one is right or wrong. That’s patently false, not to mention self refuting.

Subjective preference and taste have little to do with whether or not a religious claim is true or false. In fact, the one thing that all world religions have in common is their mutual incompatibility. It’s not up for a taste-test; it’s simply a matter of logic. All of the world’s religions could be false; that’s possible. But to claim that the world’s religions are all true, or even a matter of subjective preference, is a logical impossibility. And until the world understands this (don’t hold your breath) it will never understand why Christians cannot worship with false gods and false religions.

Now, when it comes to the Christian Gospel – that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself – it’s possible that this claim too is false, along with all the other world religions. But Christianity and Judaism, or Christianity and Islam, or Christianity and Mormonism cannot all be true at the same time. Christianity is not simply one flavor out of many.

That’s why, when Christians participate in public events of any kind in any context, simply speaking the Gospel isn’t the only thing that needs to be said. By standing in the buffet line we give the impression that Christianity is simply one flavor out of many. While we should work hard to remove any scandal and offense in our public lives, the one that we cannot remove – indeed that we must proclaim – is the scandal of the cross. We preach Christ Crucified. And no other world religion does. We must do both, tear down the false temples and build the positive case for Christianity.

Christians must differentiate themselves from the world and the world’s religious chaos that surrounds us. What separates Christianity from every other world religion are facts, eyewitness testimony. Christianity is open to investigation and is grounded entirely on historical, objective events that if proven untrue, toss it in the trash on your way out the door. If Christ is not raised, our faith is in vain. But Christ is raised from the dead; the central message of Christianity is a matter of historical fact and investigation.

Our culture today is closer to what it was during the time of the apostles than it has been in centuries. Christian persecution is on the rise. Martyrdom is an increasingly real and present possibility for Christians around the world. Earthly rules are escalating their antagonism towards Christians. And Christianity is once again surrounded on all sides by pagan religions, non-believers and a cacophony of world views in the market place of religious ideas.  Christians in 2013 can learn a great deal from our first century forefathers when it comes to evangelism, apologetics, and proclaiming the Christian gospel in a pluralistic society.

With the recent inter-faith prayer vigil in Newtown, CT – and the controversy this has stirred up in the church – these issues have returned to the forefront of the news media – not to mention the Internet, Facebook, and blogs – and with varying degrees of reliability. Contrary to the popular claim, we do not find examples of Christians participating in inter-faith services in the New Testament, let alone the Old Testament. When Israel engaged in inter-faith worship in the Old Testament, the prophets called it what it was: theological adultery. That is to say, this is a first commandment issue: idolatry.

Jesus did not stand alongside the priests of the Roman pagan temples or even his own Rabbis and proclaim mutually contradictory teachings and claim he was doing it for the sake of the Gospel. On the contrary, he frequently called out the Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees for their false teaching and called them to repentance and forgiveness of sins. Likewise with St. Paul, whether he was in the synagogue or the public square. St. Paul did not offer a prayer or a sermon while the sacrifices of Athena were going on in the temple in Athens. He did, however, meet with many Athenians in the public square. He knew their poets, quoted their works, and then proceeded to tell them that their unknown God was known (Acts 17). Repeatedly, whether in Athens or Ephesus, he condemned unbelief in Christ, false belief in all other gods, and then proclaimed the Gospel. Paul was simply following Jesus’ word to the apostles: repentance and forgiveness of sins must be proclaimed to all nations (Luke 24).

If anything, St. Paul was consistent. In Acts 4, Peter and John are before the Jewish council. And by today’s standards, he was anything but politically correct. He told his fellow Jewish brothers that they had crucified Christ. And that there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). St. Paul knew that the truthfulness of Christianity was nothing at all like ice cream (or whatever sweet treats Paul liked, if any). He knew that Jesus’ claim to be God and his death and resurrection which vindicated that claim is a message that is both exclusive and inclusive, exclusive for Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to Father except through Him; and inclusive, for Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

In the public arena, both must be proclaimed. It’s not enough to simply preach the Gospel, for the sake of love, in the public square without also speaking the truth about the other false religions around you. Paul does this in no uncertain terms in First Corinthians when teaching about the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot share in both, for what fellowship has light with the darkness (2 Corinthians 614-18)?

A Christian apologist today must do what St. Paul did routinely throughout the book of Acts and in his epistles, speak the truth in love. You can’t have one without the other. Truth and love cannot be bifurcated or dichotomized. Truth without love has no object; it is empty. And love without truth is a lie; it is a pure subjective fantasy where right and wrong does not exist. When love becomes detached from the truth of Scripture and the faithfulness of the Lutheran Confessions to that Scripture, the proclamation of the Gospel simply appears to be one flavor out of many at the religious ice cream parlor. This tastes good in the food court of public consumption. It’s popular, no doubt; for sinful man is lactose intolerant to the pure spiritual milk of Christ Crucified. But in the end, this kind of gospel is no Gospel; and it is neither truthful nor loving. For when we sacrifice truth for love (or vice versa) we lose both. Lord, keep us steadfast in your Word!

Peter’s words be a helpful reminder and source of encouragement:

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is right? 14 But even if you do suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing right, if that should be God’s will, than for doing wrong. (1 Peter 3)

About Pastor Sam Schuldheisz

Pastor Schuldheisz serves as Pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Huntington Beach, CA. He graduated in 2004 from Concordia University Irvine. And he is a 2008 graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana. Pastor Schuldheisz is also blessed in marriage to his wife of 7 years, Natasha. Together they enjoy the blessings of parenthood with their daughter Zoe. And when he’s not writing sermons or changing diapers, he enjoys reading and writing about the works of the Inklings and other belletristic literature, and Christian apologetics. He’s even been known to answer to Pastor Samwise on occasion.

Comments

Ice Cream and Apologetics — 26 Comments

  1. “There are even people who don’t like ice cream.”
    -Blasphemy!!!!!!! 😀

    Seriously, though, a very good article. I was discussing this earlier tonight with other Christians concerning Romans 12:18 and pointed out that “as much as it is possible” statement made by Paul in that passage implies that there are times when peace is to be sacrificed for the sake of something greater, such as doctrinal truth and Scriptural commands.

    The idea of “peace at any price” has become far too prevalent in Christian circles, and it has resulted in the formation of vice by the idolization of a virtue. And it also tells me that, while the law is not what saves us, a little more preaching of the law at times would do us good in reminding us of this.

  2. “By standing in the buffet line we give the impression that Christianity is simply one flavor out of many.”

    And what impressions do we give by offering nothing at all to an assembly of hungry people?

    If you know that only unwholesome food is going to be served if you do not participate, do you leave the Bread of Life on the shelf back home for your own well-fed guests? Or do you share it gladly and generously, saying, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” (Ps 34:8 ESV)

    “It’s not enough to simply preach the Gospel, for the sake of love, in the public square without also speaking the truth about the other false religions around you.”

    Will explaining why the other dishes are unwholesome make yours any more satisfying?

    “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” Ps 96:3 ESV

  3. Pr. Schuldheisz – please explain something for me. If “Christianity is open to investigation and is grounded entirely on historical, objective events”, what does faith have to do with anything? You seem to be suggesting that we know Christianity is true because we have weighed the evidence and figured it out for ourselves. I don’t think you believe that but, although I have read that paragraph several times and can’t get from those words to any other understanding. And, clearly it stands in stark contrast to our belief that “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of ethings not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

  4. Carl H,

    Your question, “Will explaining why the other dishes are unwholesome make yours any more satisfying?” is an important one. In and of itself alone, no, a negative defense is not an argument for something. In other words, I can demonstrate all day long that “x,y,z” religions are wrong but I have not demonstrated why Christianity is true in doing so. That does not however mitigate the need for that kind of work. However, later in the article, I mentioned (however brief it may be) that we also need to demonstrate the positive case for Christianity being true in the public square. It’s not enough to tear down, we must also provide a reason for the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15). The apostles worked this same way in the book of Acts, preaching the gospel and offering many proofs (Acts 1:3, Acts 17) proclaiming both what Christians believe and why we should believe it – i.e. Jesus rose from the dead.

  5. Johan,
    You’ve asked a very important question. And first let me say two things before I answer the question directly. 1) Thank you for the tone of your question, it appeared to me eb a genuine question and not what I hear so often as an accusatory remark veiled in a question. 2) The response below will be brief but your question bears a longer answer and fits well with some ideas I’ve been working on for a future article along the lines of “The Holy Spirit and Apologetics” or “Faith, Reason, and Apologetics” or something similar. Point is, my answer is not intended to be an exhaustive one, for your question deserves more than a few paragraph’s answer. At any rate, here are a few thoughts on the matter

    a) A good apologetic method follows what we see in the book of Acts, especially from St. Paul (but also the other apostles) where they couple two things together: the proclamation of the gospel and an apologia (defense) of that gospel. They communicate both the truth and reasons for it. They tell us what they believe and why. They present the truth of the Christian faith while providing a factual, objective basis for that faith, grounded not in feeling or the heart (or anything subjective) but in the events themselves that unfolded during Jesus life and ministry. Think of Paul in 1 Corinthians…If Christ is not raised…

    Now, the apostles present these thigns (Christ’s death and resurrection in particular) as fact, and they are true whether or not someone believes in them. Faith does not create their facticity. Nor does doubt in these events create their falsehood.

    b) here, it’s also helpful to consider the 16th century Lutheran fathers, as my teacher in apologetics has said before “…Using the categories of the Lutheran orthodox (17th cent.), saving faith involves (1) notitia, (2) assensus AND (3) fiducia. Any apologist worth his salt knows that the highest level his work can reach is (2) assensus– no more. Fiducia is beyond his reach, is God’s business.”

    c) so, to answer your question a bit more directly now, Lutheran apologists (such as myself) are not arguing that we can argue someone into the Christian faith merely by presenting the facts, after all, the demons believe and tremble – and this is clearly not a saving knowledge of Christ. There’s also that wonderful section in Luke 16 where Jesus teaches the importance of faith and trust in his word:
    27 “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”

    And neither are we arguing that we weigh the evidence ourselves and make a decision or somehow rule out faith / trust in the Word simply because we know the facts of history. Learning the facts / acknowledging those facts to be true are different from saving faith in those facts. However, such faith as is granted by the Holy Spirit is grounded in the objective work of Christ outside ourselves.
    Thus, the Christian apologist can – and should – present a reasonably sound, coherent, historical, evidential argument for the truthfulness of Jesus’ death and resurrection. However, in no way does this guarantee that the person will believe it. Again, faith is entirely a gift of the Holy Spirit and a working of Christ and the Spirit upon that person (Ephesians 2).

    d) Your use of Hebrews 11 is an interesting one. I don’t think that we’re arguing for the opposite things, but rather for two sides of the same coin. Hebrews 11’s wider context reveals that the OT saints were hoping for and longing for. It seems like faith and hope are used somewhat interchangably here as a trust in the promise that was yet to come, namely, Christ’s incarnation in human flesh. And Hebrews also mentions that what had been promised to them had not yet been received, which is why they had this faith and hope in things unseen. However, all this changes when Christ is born in Bethlehem, there the unseen promises of God become seen and visible in human flesh. And this is the other side of the coin. While we – are in a similar situation in some ways to the OT saints, i.e. waiting for the fulfillment of Christ’s promises at his 2nd coming, we are different in this way. Christ has come among us. God has entered human time and history. Our hope and longing, our trust in God’s promises, that faith created by the Holy Spirit (and by Christ alone, grace alone, and so forth) is a faith founded on fact. I think Hebrews 11 shows exactly how we approach the waiting and fulfillment of Christ’s promises in the future just as the OT saints anticipated and hoped for his birth.
    In other words, our subjective faith must be grounded in objective, factual truth, or Christianity is reduced to the status of a mind cult. And this is exactly how the NT apostles operate, preaching both the faith to be believed in and the reason for believing it…”these things did happen in a corner” Paul says.

    Now, that’s a bit longer of an answer than I intended to give, but I hope that helps clarify things a bit. There simply isn’t enough time in one article to expound the defense of the defense of the faith. I’ve done that a bit in previous articles and will hopefully write something again soon. Thanks again for your inquiry.

  6. I’m not sure the setting was conducive to much apologetics.

    1.  The community was dealing with the unthinkable tragic murder of 20 little kids.

    2.  The President of the United States had just delivered a speech and was still in the room.

    3.  Pastor Morris spoke for all of 120 seconds.

    Do you think anyone at all even paid attention to what Pr Morris said?  I seriously doubt this had any impact on anyone other than a handful of LCMS pastors  who should have voiced their concerns privately.

  7. @John Rixe #11: “Do you think anyone at all even paid attention to what Pr Morris said?”

    IOW – Is co-officiating an interfaith prayer service along with the satanic advocates of false gods really breaking the First, Second, and Third Commandments if people attending the religious service didn’t pay attention to what Rev. Morris said?

    This is moral and doctrinal relativism. It’s similar to asking if telling a lie really breaks the Eighth Commandment if the person it’s told to wasn’t even paying attention.

  8. @Carl Vehse #12

    Good point.  I agree it was a mistake and shouldn’t be repeated.  The public reaction initiated by LCMS pastors has been more than proportional and has done much more harm than the original mistake.    What are the positive things being accomplished by all this rigamarole?  Couldn’t the problem have been fixed internally?

  9. @John Rixe #13: “I agree it was a mistake and shouldn’t be repeated.”

    By “mistake” do you mean that “this was in fact joint worship with other religions (as previously defined by the Synod)… that this was a step beyond the bounds of practice allowed by the Scriptures, our Lutheran Confessions, and the constitution of our Synod”?

    “The public reaction initiated by LCMS pastors has been more than proportional and has done much more harm than the original mistake.”

    By “public” do you mean of Missouri Synod Lutherans, or of some others, even non-Christians and antiChristians?

    And by “reaction” do you mean posting statements on the internet that publicly proclaim a public participation in an interfaith prayer service “was in fact joint worship with other religions (as previously defined by the Synod)… that this was a step beyond the bounds of practice allowed by the Scriptures, our Lutheran Confessions, and the constitution of our Synod”?

    What is the equation or criteria you use to determine what is “proportional,” and if the reactions promote Lutheran doctrine and practice, why is “more than proportional” a concern?

    What “much more harm” was actually done for publicly posting comments that an interfaith prayer service “was in fact joint worship with other religions (as previously defined by the Synod)… that this was a step beyond the bounds of practice allowed by the Scriptures, our Lutheran Confessions, and the constitution of our Synod”?

    “What are the positive things being accomplished by all this rigamarole?

    By “rigamarole” are you referring to comments on BJS with which you personally disagree, or are you referring to comments which explain why public participation in an interfaith prayer service “was in fact joint worship with other religions (as previously defined by the Synod)… that this was a step beyond the bounds of practice allowed by the Scriptures, our Lutheran Confessions, and the constitution of our Synod,” and which work to counter continuing comments by others blowing emotional, pejorative, and ad hominem smoke over the issues?

    “Couldn’t the problem have been fixed internally?”

    By “problem” are you referring to –
    1. syncretic and unionism participation in an interfaith prayer service, or
    2. recognizing such participation is “in fact joint worship with other religions (as previously defined by the Synod)” and “a step beyond the bounds of practice allowed by the Scriptures, our Lutheran Confessions, and the constitution of our Synod,” or
    3. causing offense, or
    4. the procedure for determining continued synodical membership of an individual?

    In the interfaith prayer service participation being discussed in a number of BJS threads, these “problems” have all been resolved from a Lutheran perspective, or are awaiting implentation by the responsible individuals within the Missouri Synod.

  10. @John Rixe #15: “I double-dog-dare apologize for expressing myself in simple layman language.”

    Now, John, with all of those equivocal terms so generously scattered throughout your comment, there wasn’t much room for any simple layman language.

    I’m reminded of watching Sen. Sam Ervin (D-NC) don his “jus’ an ol’ country boy” image when interrogating witnesses at the Senate Watergate hearings.

  11. Sam,

    Berquest’s approach to Christianity (liberal protestantism) views faith in terms of twentieth century existentialism rather than as the gift that the Bible describes.

    Faith according to twentieth century liberalism is an act of the will despite the facts. Since the nineteenth and twentieth centuries cut us off from knowing the truth about the real world and excluded any claim to objective facts (which your accurate portrayal of faith and apologetics is based on) the liberal Christians who followed this stream had to redefine faith.

    It could not longer be a gift of God that is given by the objective facts described in His Word. Instead they viewed it as a Kierkegaardian leap into the unknown with the hope that God would catch them.

    So, because he does not accept the innerency of Scripture Berquest cannot accept your definition of faith.

  12. John Rixe,

    I thinked you asked above why this could not have been resolved behind closed doors.

    It was a public sin and needed to be addressed for all the world to see.

    It is like this. When one of your children commits a sin in front of the other children you ought not to whisk the perpetrator away, quietly get repentance from him and then leave it at.

    The other children who witnessed the sin need to know that it was wrong and also need to have their brother confess to them that he sinned against them by doing it in front of them. They were sullied by the act and need to be clean and also reconciled to their brother and most importantly, in light of all the liberals running around the LCMS these days bragging to high heaven how Pastor Morris is innocent, the children need to see that sin is confronted and dealt with or their own sinful flesh will be tempted to sin.

  13. @John Rixe #19

    Seriously, John. Your Conflict Management Style is Avoidance. I know this because that’s how I tested out at CSP. (DCE’s underwent a handful of personality tests) You can deny the truth all you want, but it was public. And quite honestly, the biggest thing that made it public was Pres. Obama giving a speech (sermon?). That was oging ot guarentee it would get national exporsure, even if a bit limited. (I know society doesn’t gravitate to presidential speeches they way we used to) The only thing you will accomplish by trying to sweep this under the rug is to have a really lumpy rug. And guess what, that is still noticeable. And those who actually CAN discern, are pointing out the absurdity of it all.

  14. So Mr. Rixe, sins only count if “someone notices”? That’s quite a relief. Maybe I should just become a liberal. Life would be a lot more fun if I could simply make up my own rules. (But seriously, the argument that no one noticed a nationally televised service is pretty thin.)

  15. Jim Hamilton #21: So Mr. Rixe, sins only count if “someone notices”? That’s quite a relief.

    Well, that’s only part of it, according to the criteria in #11, where sin doesn’t count as sin:

    1. If the sin is done while dealing with an unthinkable tragedy, e.g., 20 to 55,000,000 children murdered.

    2. If the sin is done after a lying, murdering traitor has spoken (whose election would fit under category 1).

    3. If the sin is under 2 minutes (or alternatively, nobody was paying attention).

  16. Pastor Sam Schuldheisz :
    Now, the apostles present these thigns (Christ’s death and resurrection in particular) as fact, and they are true whether or not someone believes in them. Faith does not create their facticity. Nor does doubt in these events create their falsehood.
    Thus, the Christian apologist can – and should – present a reasonably sound, coherent, historical, evidential argument for the truthfulness of Jesus’ death and resurrection. However, in no way does this guarantee that the person will believe it. Again, faith is entirely a gift of the Holy Spirit and a working of Christ and the Spirit upon that person (Ephesians 2).
    In other words, our subjective faith must be grounded in objective, factual truth, or Christianity is reduced to the status of a mind cult. And this is exactly how the NT apostles operate, preaching both the faith to be believed in and the reason for believing it…”these things did happen in a corner” Paul says.

    Pr. Schuldheisz – thanks for your thoughtful response and please excuse my tardy reply to it.

    By faith, we accept Scripture as God’s Inspired Word. By faith, we accept the apostle’s testimony, recorded in Scripture, as factual. Our faith is grounded in the gift which we have received from the Holy Spirit. We cannot ground our faith in “objective, factual truths” because we cannot independently verify the apostles’ accounts. And, if we could independently verify the apostles’ accounts’ of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we would not need faith to believe that it is true. Thus, Hebrews 11.

    And, please note that, although the only “evidence” that we has is God’s Inspired Word – which we can “know” as “factual” only by faith – I do not for a minute think that Christianity is nothing but a cult.

  17. @John Rixe #23
    I guess you folks didn’t read comment 13. I’m dropping out here because we’re just in a repetitious circle and my CMS is Avoidance

    Probably one way to reduce the amount of exposure on [any] topic would be for all those who want it reduced to stop posting about it. 😉

  18. @Johan Bergfest #24
    And, please note that, although the only “evidence” that we has is God’s Inspired Word – which we can “know” as “factual” only by faith – I do not for a minute think that Christianity is nothing but a cult.

    Much of what we believe we have by faith in God’s inspired Word, which should be enough for believers. But for those who disbelieve or doubt, there is documentation in sources outside the Bible for Jesus’s life death and resurrection, Josephus, for one, but also Jewish writers for the Jews. [Josephus wrote for his Roman overlords.]

    Someone wrote the the best evidence for Christ is the fact the Jewish writers have been denying the virgin birth, his life, death and resurrection from the first Pentecost to this day.

    [I may be repeating myself.] Why would anyone spend that kind of time
    on someone who never existed and therefore didn’t do the things Christ did?
    As one of the Jewish leaders said, (paraphrasing) If this is false, it will fall of itself. But if it’s true, you are opposing God here. (He was telling the Council to leave the Apostles alone.)

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